I have said in a previous blog post that although I was born in London, we as a family moved to a town where Dad had managed to get a job as a teacher. Over the years we lived in the town he was also involved with various things there, he was scoutmaster for the local troop and was actively involved at our local church, which was St. Mary’s.
For a while we lived near to the church and apparently I was a little scared of the sound of the church bells, but I was very young at the time. Then I learned that Dad was a bellringer and as soon as I knew my Dad was helping to make the noise of the bells, I was happy. Dad sang in the choir and later he was choirmaster. He was also deputy organist and one of two churchwardens, one being the People’s warden and the other the Church warden, each with their own responsibilities. In addition, for a few years he was treasurer on the local Parochial Church Council (PCC) but as with so many of these volunteer organisations it seems that only a limited number of people ever want to get involved. So it was that after a number of years Dad decided enough was enough and someone else should take on the role of treasurer. I do think the old adage of ‘One volunteer is worth ten pressed men’ held true in this case! But in time, perhaps Dad felt he was being taken advantage of, also he wasn’t getting any younger in terms of job promotion. Apart from that, Mum and I were now working, not in the town but in the city a few miles away. So it was that one year Dad told everyone at the PCC’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) that he would be standing down the following year as treasurer and they now had twelve months to get a replacement who he would be more than happy to train as much as might be required, ready for handing over the books. Sadly however, despite him regularly reminding them and urging them to recruit a replacement in time for the next AGM, nobody did a single thing about it. So, true to his word, at that next AGM Dad brought all the books etc along and left them on the table. Despite protestations from other council members, even a plea from the vicar, my Dad stood firm. He had made it abundantly clear several times during that year what would happen and they were therefore left to resolve the problem of a new treasurer on their own. But it was no small effort for Dad to stand up to the rest of those PCC members. I have an idea that Dad had also set his eyes on getting more experience in a teaching job elsewhere, which later he did. We moved a few miles to the edge of the city and a bit later Dad got a job as deputy head at a school fairly near to where we were now living. He stayed there until he retired and he was due to finish in the December, but was able to stay on an extra term until the end of the school year, so the children didn’t get a different teacher for that one term. In my view it was the proper way of managing the changes the children would have in the following school year.
The above image is of the present Park Inn by Radisson hotel, with its entrance in Wentworth Street, Peterborough but it was originally built as Telephone House, with the the main entrance in Trinity Street. The original building was four and a half storeys high when I started work there in 1969, but it had one and a half floors added to it a few years later. The council then built Bourges Boulevard and part of that new road went straight across Trinity Street, cutting that old road in two. Quite why an underpass couldn’t have been built there I have no idea. At the time I started work, the site was also used by the Post Office as part of their sorting and delivery work but when separation came and Post Office Telephones became British Telecom, the postal side left. But then a little while later a major extension to the telephone exchange was built on the site and the exchange was joined to Telephone House. It must have caused the architects some work, as the two buildings had different levels and it meant quite a few different sets of stairs! But building Bourges Boulevard, putting an extension onto Telephone House and constructing a full extension to the existing telephone exchange were not the only major changes to Peterborough. It had been designated a ‘new town’ in 1967 and the Peterborough Development Corporation decided to construct a new, purpose-built shopping centre in the heart of the city. Planning permission was received in the late summer of 1976 and in November the retailer John Lewis Partnership announced that it had agreed to be the anchor shop in the new development. The opening of the store in Peterborough marked the company’s return to the city after an absence of over twenty-five years. Sadly however, John Lewis announced the permanent closure of the store in April 2021, leaving the centre without its main anchor tenant. Today there are still two other anchor tenants such as M&S and the Boots company which are still open, soon there will be a new anchor for the centre and that will be the much anticipated Empire Cinemas which will open as part of the £60million extension to the mall, this will also include a new food court and several new stores, whose names, so far as I know, are yet to be announced.
In 2011, a £20 million revamp to Queensgate was undertaken, which included the clothing retailer Primark taking over several units and an extension to replace the units taken over. Changes to the large multi-storey car park removed references to local historical figures, these being Edith Cavell, Frank Perkins, Henry Royce and John Clare in favour of a colour-coded system, but I have an idea there were some serious complaints at this because the names were subsequently reinstated and paired with the new colour system. Paten Bridge, which crosses Bourges Boulevard (the A15), links Queensgate to the station quarter, which includes a new full sized Waitrose supermarket with a coffee shop and restaurant, built in 2014 on the site of the former Royal Mail sorting office. In 2018 some areas were re-paved and a number of shop fronts were updated. There has been discussion on covering the entire street with a glass roof, but so far as I know, the plans have not been finalised. In 2015, a detailed planning application for a £30 million enhancement of the centre was submitted to Peterborough City Council as the plan was to create a 77,000 square feet (7,153 square metre) extension in partnership with John Lewis, but which has since permanently closed. The development was to include a restaurant hub and a multi-screen digital cinema. Planning permission was granted and work was scheduled to start in 2019, also tenders for the cinema and the food hall were allocated. In early 2020 McLaren Construction Group landed the contract to build the 77,000 square foot extension, work quickly began on the site compounds which resulted in half of the bus station being closed temporarily and relocated to the Coach Park just behind The Brewery Tap. Before work could fully get underway, due to the Coronavirus pandemic work ground to a halt whilst everyone in the building trade found out where they stood, but after guidelines and measures were put in place work quickly resumed on site with cranes and scaffolding being erected to provide material and personnel access to the roof. In preparation of the extension John Lewis carried out a £21 million refurbishment project on their anchor store in the centre, part of their project involved giving up around 60,000 square feet of retail space to make way for the construction for four new retail units, three of which would have two floors. Next expressed an interest in moving into one of the store which was rumoured to be a 32,000 square foot retail unit directly opposite H&M, however Next closed its Queensgate store in April 2021, and is unlikely to consider a return to the centre. TK Maxx have announced they will be giving up their current store in Bridge Street to move into a vacant unit, on the upper ground floor of the Central Square. It is a forever changing world!
Back in 1969, when I first joined what was originally Post Office Telephones, later British Telecom (BT), I had been asked if I intended to make BT my career, which I did. I learned that experience in the company was useful for promotion as well as, shall we say a ‘degree of flexibility’. That was certainly true at times, especially as I had started at sixteen, straight from school. I learned much about people and whilst most were kind or at the very least friendly, others were not, in fact one or two were not good people at all in my opinion. It meant having to adapt, also sadly if ‘your face didn’t fit’ as the old saying is, things could be quite difficult. Also the changing attitudes by managers was not easy to accept at times. So when a promotion opportunity came that involved me moving to Leicester, my Dad actually urged me to go, not in an unkind way but because he knew it would be good for me. So I went and it was – good for me, that is. Over the years further changes within the company meant I was working in such places as Nottingham, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester. But in time, work finally led me back to Leicester. Back when I was sixteen, I was learning about the offices, telephone exchanges and other buildings that BT used. There was the maintenance and cleaning of them, the household stores required, we also had the local telephone exchange with all the amazing equipment needed, but which still had a very old-style lift with a heavy manual doors. Not like the modern automatic ones of today! There was a large canteen on the third floor. So I got to see all that, also the large room where the ‘100’ and ‘999’ telephone operators worked. Pretty girls, most of them but they were all kept under strict supervision. It was all very different from school! A few years later I was moved into the accounts department, where I saw how the telephone bills were collated and produced, then a few years later I went on to the telephone directory compilation team, manually filling in the cards used by a computer which then collated all of the entries ready for printing the directories. It has all changed now of course. But this was where I got my first introduction to computers, in particular I realised how accurate one has to be when inputting data to them. I had said how I’d wanted BT to be my career and after a year or so I was advised that I’d be moving to the Sales department. I must say at this point that in the other offices I’d worked in, it was, generally, fairly quiet. But in this Sales office, it seemed like everyone was working at three times the speed of any other, folk were multitasking, everything was a blur to begin with. But I soon got used to it. I enjoyed the work, also with each move to a different group or department I was getting more and more experience in the company as a whole. In addition, I became more interested in the deeper world of computers and much of the associated programming which I was doing as a hobby at home! So it was that I got the opportunity to actually do some limited amounts of programming, I was also doing checks on new software prior to it being distributed generally, looking to ensure there were no errors. I did find occasional ones, not many though. This helped when it came to training others in the use of the new software which I and a few others did. What amused me was that a further reorganisation in the company had brought me back to Leicester, where I began training and working with some of the people I had worked with many years before. I was also able to make my mother laugh when I told her of that move as I was teaching people about using computers and she recalled the time when I was just sixteen, still at school and looking for a job, because I had applied for one with an engineering company in Peterborough as a computer operator. I’d been turned down because they said that I had no aptitude for working with computers! Yet here I was, years later teaching computer skills. But things change and BT were cutting back, so when they made me an offer I could not refuse I went. I had been with them thirty-eight years! After some additional teacher training I started my own small business, teaching basic computer skills and photography, as the latter was a hobby I was keen on. I had been used to using ‘film’ cameras, yet here I was now able to take photographs, view them instantly and then use computer software to enhance and crop them before using the Internet to share them with others.
We all go through different changes in our lives, I know that I have had to adapt to the changes around me, though I don’t think my personal outlook on life has altered too much overall. But I have definitely learned a great deal. I have learned that there is a need in adjusting to changes that are around us, but I have been told that I seem to see a silver lining in every cloud. Most of the time I do, but be assured that there have been just a few occasions when I haven’t been happy with how my life has been. It is then that I have found a change to be more than just a good idea, but absolutely necessary. It has meant not seeing some people very often, if at all in some cases and it has meant accepting some changes too, but change is often not simply a good idea, but absolutely necessary.
“Said Harriet to Ophelia,
I shall draw a sketch of thee!
What kind of pencil shall I use,
2B or not 2B!!!”
~ Spike Milligan